Ray was a staunch Labour voter all his life but he became more politically active in the early 50’s after joining the ACDM (Australian Cultural Defence Movement).
This movement sought to protect Australian culture from being swamped by foreign influences (mainly American) and many prominent artistic Australians such as the actor Leonard Teale were members. During this period Ray organised some concerts for workers in the domain believing that Music should be brought out of the Opera Houses where it had been the domain of the elite previously.
He believed everyone should have access to music and sought to try and achieve this through these concerts organised in conjunction with the Waterside Workers and the Railway Union.
The ‘commie’ slur
As a result of his affiliation with the ACDM and a close personal friendship formed with self confessed communist and author Frank Hardy, Ray believed his reputation was slurred and he became branded as a “commie”. This was the Menzies era (1949-1966) and it seems that those who didn’t share his beliefs, and wished perhaps to keep the status quo taunted Ray.
Ray explained to us that he believed this slur prevented his ascending any higher in the hierarchy at the Conservatorium. It wasn’t until many years later when Graham Hardie, the Sydney University Musicologist was delving into Ray’s life with a view to compiling a biography, that Graham encouraged me to do a search through freedom of information and that search proved there wasn’t even a file on him. This slurring was simply malicious gossip by his competitors.
As a man, Ray was always self effacing and humble and did not promote himself as well as others, which may also have impeded his progress at the Con. After being awarded the Gordon Vickers Scholarship in 1941 his music did not attract official recognition until 1967 when the Music Foundation of the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) commissioned from him a String Quartet (which he composed for the Sydney String Quartet, his fellow Conservatorium teachers).
A few months later the NSW Government Cultural Grants Committee commissioned an orchestral overture, Gula. Gula, dated 1968 was actually dedicated to Dr Robert Mitchell and the Canberra Community Hospital ‘ in gratitude for my continued existence’ as this Commission coincided with his first heart attack in 1967. (there is also a note on the original score which states that Gula was the Sumerian goddess of medicine and healing.)
In many ways it seems that Ray was ahead of his time. Concerts in the Domain exist today and music has become accessible to the everyman particularly through the digital age, so again, his beliefs just took the world a while to catch on. He was largely self-taught and also never travelled overseas to study as most teachers considered worthy of a position such as his did at the time.
Australia was his muse and he found her endlessly fascinating and many of his works reflect aspects of life here, nature, culture and politics. Ray was somewhat compelled to express himself and his beliefs through his music and his legacy is a huge body of various types and styles of musical compositions strongly rooted in Australian Culture.